Gwen and Roosevelt met in Portland where he spent most of his life. Together they share two adult children and one toddler grandson. Together they enjoy “getting out and enjoying the landscape”, meaning hiking, bicycling and walking. Gwen also enjoys reading, writing, music, attending plays, and visiting art museums. Roosevelt has also started playing pickleball again.
Roosevelt was introduced to logistics, i.e., dealing with the movement of equipment and personnel during his time in the U.S. Air Force. Interestingly, he learned to write backwards, i.e., mirror writing on large plexiglass display boards (before widespread use of computers) so command officers could see and track the status and location of equipment and operational units during Operational Readiness Inspections, a really, big deal in the military. After the Air Force, Roosevelt graduated from Portland State University with degrees in Geography and Urban Studies. Then he worked for the Port Authority at the Portland Airport where he applied his logic to solving problems through research. Roosevelt helped create the airport’s bird control program to address the bird strike problem, the aircraft noise abatement program, and an early parking management program to aid travelers in finding their cars after long vacations, particularly on dark, wet Portland nights. Gwen earned a Masters’ degree in Public Administration from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and her career focused on public service. Having worked in city, county and state governments, we could ask what she makes of the Portland commission form of government.
Both Gwen and Roosevelt were raised in the church. Roosevelt’s family was Southern Black Baptist and Gwen’s family was African Methodist Episcopal. While they deeply value these traditions, they felt drawn to the Episcopalian tradition when they lived in North Carolina and attended an Episcopal church that held jazz mass. When they moved back to Portland in 2015, they were looking for a welcoming, thoughtful church where they would “meet other people on the same journey.” For them, Grace meets those criteria. Here they aim to be “present, not perfect.”
Carol recently moved to Portland from the Bay Area, but if you talk to her you will notice her accent is not one of just any Californian. Carol grew up in Wales and moved to the states as a nurse. It was during her initial visit to the states when she met her husband Rene. Together they decided to immigrate to the states (Rene was from Belgium). They lived together in California for over forty years. They traveled domestically and internationally throughout their marriage.
After Rene passed away a few years ago, Carol’s daughter and son-in-law, who also are both in the medical field, encouraged her to move closer to them. Carol has two grandchildren that she loves to watch throughout the week, but when she isn’t watching little Ricky and Rene, you can find Carol at a ballroom dance lesson or showcase. Carol is looking forward to this new chapter in Portland.
Please join us in welcoming Gary Lawrence & Marla McGarry-Lawrence
Gary Lawrence is a retired firefighter. He enjoys playing golf and is a coin collector
Marla McGarry-Lawrence is a retired deacon in the Diocese of Oregon and has served at St. Michael & All Angels, St. Matthew’s, and Sts. Peter & Paul Episcopal Churches. She is also the coordinator of the annual Diocesan Spanish Language Immersion Program in Cuernavaca, Mexico
They both enjoy traveling, riding their bicycles, going on picnics. Gary and Marla are McMenamin’s Cosmic Tripsters, having completed three McMenamin’s passports.
Hope Hansmeyer came to Grace Memorial Episcopal about two years ago when she first moved into the Portland area from Minneapolis, Minnesota. She went to several other churches in the area, but she settled on Grace in part because of the genuine kindness she encountered here.
Hope has a background in social work, but upon moving to Portland, she worked for a time in a coffee shop, so she has the random skill of creating very delicious beverages. She now works for Multnomah County in the District Attorney’s Office, where she has become invaluable both to the attorneys (for keeping their schedules straight) and for victims of crime, who rely on her for status updates about the case that affects them, and information about how the system works, what to expect as their case unfolds, and she connects them with resources to deal with the trauma of being a crime victim.
Hope’s patience and her background and knowledge of social work make her a gift to the people who encounter her at work. She also has an excellent singing voice (she’s a strong soprano!) and in the VERY early mornings, you can find her at a Crossfit studio, enjoying the challenge of all the varied exercises as a way to start the day. Hope is a delight, and Grace is lucky to have her in the pews, and in our lives as a community.
Living this life is like building a tower.
I’d like to start with a quick survey: how many of you here have done a renovation project? (I’m defining the term renovation fairly broadly here – so as big as adding or altering a bathroom and as small as, I don’t know what, insulating your attic or putting drywall up in your basement or adding gutters. A project, in other words, that involves a drill gun and maybe a contractor and encountering the interior parts of your home, parts that you don’t normally see.)
So, a good number of us.
What you will know as a veteran of renovation is, with a handful of exceptions, renovations take longer than you planned, they are more complicated than you planned, they are more expensive than you planned. To open a wall in an old house is almost always to find problems or hurdles that you didn’t see coming.
I’m thinking about this, I guess, because I spent a good part of the last week working on running a new electrical receptacle to the narthex, to the wee lobby area just inside the front doors. It was more complicated than I had planned. That thing that looks like an arch around the door to the narthex, that appears to be holding up the ceiling? That’s actually hollow, at least down at floor level. The thing that looks like a plain-old wall beside it, that you would reckon would be lath and plaster with a hollow interior? That’s solid concrete, most likely the pillar that bears the load of the building.
That reversal of my expectations made running wire more challenging and differently challenging than I had expected.
I may have said some words that you are not supposed to say in church.
If the tradition is correct and Jesus followed his Dad into the carpentry business, if Jesus worked in construction, maybe building roads or houses in the city of Sepphoris, just a few miles north of Nazareth, then it is curious that in his parables and his other teachings Jesus reaches for imagery from construction so infrequently. He talks about agriculture a lot, about domestic service a lot, about money a lot. But not often does he talk about building things.
And so it is intriguing that, today, he talks about building a tower:
Who among you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and estimate the cost? Because if you don’t, if you pour a foundation and then run out of money when you’ve built a third of the tower, everybody is going to mock you.
And you will forever be known around the neighbourhood as The Tower Loser.
On its face, this is pretty fine advice, the sort of thing that your uncle or your grandma might say to you as you are heading off to college: be careful about taking out credit cards; learn to cook your own meals, you’ll save a fortune; make sure you estimate the cost before building a tower.
And while that is highly sensible advice, advice that I am inclined to heed both here at Grace and in my own family’s life, I am not convinced that it is Jesus’ advice. Because while Jesus is a lot of things, he is just about never sensible. Jesus is not the guy who is going to tell you how to judiciously navigate the stock market or how to advance your career or how to dress for success. The things that Jesus has to say are way more beautiful and way more dangerous than that.
And so any time we hear Jesus say something and we respond, “Well, isn’t that nice,” that’s a clue that we may be missing where Jesus is going.
A few things in particular make me suspect a more wonderful, frustrating, confusing, complicated, holy message behind Jesus’ words. The first is the question itself: Who among you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down and calculate the cost first?
This question is almost a trick or a trap. There is a temptation to answer it reflexively and fast and say No one or at least Not me Jesus! But the actual answer, as the fully human Jesus well knows, is, well, a lot of people. Who among you does not finish your taxes well before April 15th? Who among you does not finish your essay a week before it is due so that you have ample time to proof read and get feedback? Who among you has not laid in your Halloween candy, pre-ordered a turkey for Thanksgiving, and finished your Christmas shopping?
Sometimes we are pretty good at planning ahead. But a lot of the time, because life happens, because we get overwhelmed, because we just forget, stuff sneaks up on us. It is the day when we are supposed to break ground on the tower, all of our friends are there with their shovels, and our plans amount to three lines written on a napkin.
The second thing I notice about Jesus’ saying has to do with the history of towers themselves in scripture. If you have access to that old-school tool called the concordance, an enormous book that lets you find where and when and how many times any word shows up in scripture, or if you have access to that new-school tool called the computer, you will know that, a whole lot of the time, towers in the Bible correlate with hard news.
What is the most famous tower in scripture? Babel. A symbol of human arrogance and Divine anger and totally not up to code engineering. And while towers elsewhere sometime stand for good news – 2 Samuel 22:50 and Psalm 61 describe God as a “tower,” and the erotic poem that we call Song of Solomon speaks of breasts like towers – that is by no means the rule. In Judges, the tower of Shechem is burned in war with great and horrifying loss of life. In Isaiah and Ezekiel, destruction looks like hyenas crying in a city’s towers and towers being pulled down. Ecclesiasticus speaks of a tower of death. Jesus himself mentions a tower in just one other context. Does anyone know what that is? It is also the Gospel of Luke, the previous chapter, 13. And there Jesus tells of the tower of Siloam, which falls and kills 18 people.
In scripture the tower is, at best, an ambiguous symbol – and maybe a symbol of things going spectacularly, disastrously wrong.
Last – and here I would like to return to where I started, to renovations – a tower is, by necessity, a product of building stuff. And as everyone here who has done a renovation knows, and as everyone in Jesus’ audience knows (generally speaking, your grandparents and our ancestors still further back were more handy than us, they knew how to do things), building stuff is hard. And so the crowd before Jesus, like us, knows in their bones about the joys and the wild frustrations and the confounded expectations of digging out a hammer and a saw.
And this is what, Jesus says, following him is like. Discipleship, saying yes to Jesus, saying yes to the Kingdom: it’s like being caught off guard by the first day of construction; it’s like a tower falling over in war; it’s like starting to dig and opening the walls and finding out that your project is going to cost more and take more time and work than you had imagined.
How is this good news?
Well, it’s good news because it is the truth. Faith, hanging out in community with other people, doing this beautiful messy thing that we call church, having friends and family, being alive, building our real and our metaphorical towers: these things are all so much harder than we planned for them to be.
Or maybe that is not 100% accurate. Sometimes these things are exactly as hard as we planned for them to be. But we discover that it is one thing to plan for an experience and quite another to live that experience.
How often does someone say, I knew my spouse’s death was coming. And so I got ready. But when it happened I wasn’t ready at all.
I knew that the job loss was coming. But when it happened I wasn’t ready at all.
I knew that growing up or going away to school or moving to another city or retiring or getting old was coming. But when it happened I wasn’t ready at all.
We knew that building this tower, that standing in the hot sun and, then later, in the cold rain would be hard. We planned. And somehow it turned out that we hadn’t planned at all.
So Jesus’ words are good news because they are true. And they are good news as well because, while the tower of Babel did not get anyone to heaven, the hard work of building these towers does get us closer to God.
My old boss, Bill, would often ask folks at a funeral a question. The question went something like this:
Imagine that I have the lamp with the genie inside. When I rub it, the genie comes out and he says,
I can take all of your grief away.
There’s only one catch. You have to agree to change your past so that you never met the one who died.
How many of you,
Bill would ask,
Would take that deal?
No one ever, ever put their hand up.
Living this life is like building a tower. Sometimes we are ready for construction to begin, a lot of times we could not be less prepared. Sometimes the tower falls over partway through construction. Always, always, there are tests: things that we didn’t see coming and things that we did see coming but that push us to and beyond our limits anyway.
But who would wish it different? Who would wish our towers away? Even when they fall, even when they lean like Pisa, even when they take more than we could have imagined, they remain glorious and holy, evidence that we have lived our lives, that we have said yes to love, to possibility, to God. Our towers are proof that we are here.
If you’ve ever cooked a meal for 75 people in a cramped kitchen, you know it can be a
chaotic process – at least it is when I’m doing it. There’s always a scramble to get things
done, last minute snafus, confusion about what should happen next – yet somehow, in the end, it seems to come together. Perhaps that’s a miracle in itself, like the loaves and the fishes.
We don’t have evidence in the gospels that Jesus did any cooking, though he did
manage to organize a meal for 5000 souls – with leftovers for the next day. His instructions that day to his disciples were, “ You give them something to eat,” which surely induced a moment of panic among them.
He has given his followers today the same instructions, and the paramount importance
of those instructions is apparent in the fact that on Sunday morning a meal for everyone
present is our central act of worship.
Why are there so many references to Jesus eating and drinking with others in the
gospel? It’s central to his concept of God’s kingdom: God’s feast of good things is already
prepared, God wants everyone – and particularly those most in need – to share in it.
Gathering people of whatever sort together to share a meal with them was, for Jesus, not
just a sign of God’s Kingdom but making the Kingdom real and present , of experiencing
God’s presence here and now. It was a practice of healing and nurturing and community
formation, and it was a promise of love and joy and hope.
I’ve engaged in a number of different kinds of ministries in my life as a priest –
preaching, teaching, healing, visiting, etc. – but none has been more important to me than
preparing food for others to enjoy together.
I’m presiding at a meal when I celebrate the Eucharist, which is usually a well ordered
event. But preparing a meal, from planning to shopping to prepping, to working at a hot
stove, is inevitably a kind of juggling act with an uncertain outcome, as any cook will tell
you. So I guess it’s not that different from all the other ministries of the church.
The Friday dinners are a critical ministry at Grace. When Hale McMahon helped begin
these dinners, I suspect he was relying on the observation that if you prepare good food
and offer it to people, they will come and eat. But if you’ve been to a Friday dinner you
know that it’s not just about the food. It is making real God’s Kingdom in this city, in people sharing and serving one another, in acknowledging and honoring both the humanity and the divine image in each person present, satisfying our hunger for both sustenance and relationship with others. It is hard not to have a sense of joy in that experience.
I never discussed theology with Hale. I don’t think I needed to: his dedication to the
Friday dinner was theology in action. It told you what you needed to know about his
character, his commitment to the service of others, his radical welcoming of all to God’s
When I make it to the heavenly banquet, with the angels, and the elders, and people
from every tribe and nation feasting on fat things full of marrow and well aged wine, my
plan is to head back to the kitchen, because the kitchen is always where the action is and
where people are usually having the most fun. I suspect I will find Jesus there, popping in to see that everything is okay. “Do you need any more wine, maybe?” he’ll ask.
And I’m thinking that’s where I’ll find Hale, making sure everyone has the supplies they
need, offering to run out to get something last minute, checking that the banquet is running smoothly, that there’s plenty of food for everyone, and that everyone feels welcome.
For him, as for all of us, the Feast is only just beginning.
Well, it’s that time of year when we’re thinking about Back to School. That may not be
relevant to all of you, but I’m going to suggest that perhaps it should be.
After having retired from teaching a year ago, I find myself getting ready to go back to
the classroom once more. This will be the start of my 57th year in school, as either student or teacher.
I’ll be teaching high school Religion as an academic subject. I think there’s a strong
argument for the importance of studying religion – because of its central role in the world today as well as for the skills it can promote, like understanding different cultural perspectives.
But I think the ultimate purpose of studying religion – as is true for math or science or
English – is exploring the nature of reality and our own human nature.
From a Christian perspective, teaching and learning is a divine practice, because if God is the foundation of all reality, and if we humans are made in God’s image, then deepening our understanding of reality means coming closer to understanding the truth about God and about who we are in relationship to God. And this should be a joyful activity for all of us.
Education as divine practice is something that Jesus models throughout the Gospel, and we have a fine example in today’s lesson from Luke.
Consider the story: Jesus frees a woman from a crippling infirmity on the Sabbath. Some of the people present, based on their concept of honoring the Sabbath prohibition against work, object to this. Jesus responds to them by asking them to reflect on their own experience, and the crowd, having done this, seems to come to a new understanding. The story ends in the people rejoicing.
The story’s message seems to focus on two things: freedom and transformation. For the
woman, her new freedom and transformation are physically obvious. But the crowd is also freed – from an inadequate understanding of the Sabbath and of what God wants from them. They are also transformed, because they gain new insights, through Jesus’
questioning, into God’s truth – and this becomes a joyful experience.
I occasionally encounter former students of mine, now in their twenties or thirties, and as we talk they sometimes say that they don’t remember anything of what they have learned in my class. But as I listen to them talk about the meaningful work they do now, how they serve others, how committed they are to social concerns, the loving relationships they are in, I think – that’s okay. They have grown since high school, they have been freed from some of their narrow-mindedness and teenage anxiety, they are growing into the kind of mature and thoughtful people we need. If my teaching has contributed even the tiniest bit to that transformation, then I don’t really care if they can’t remember the significance of the 14th Amendment, or why the Council of Jerusalem was important in early Christianity.
Sometimes, as a teacher, you do get to see a moment when “the light comes on,” when a student struggling with a difficult concept – whether how to solve a quadratic equation or how to use the preterite tense in Spanish or whatever – they suddenly get it. It’s a joyful moment for both student and teacher. They’ve gained a little deeper understanding of the nature of reality, and they may have gained self-understanding as well.
True learning is not about repetitive drills, studying for tests or endless assessments.
None of these produces true joy. True learning is about pursuing a goal of what the Greeks called “Sophia” or “wisdom,” which is a deep understanding that comes from reflecting on everything we’ve learned and experienced, which pulls together and integrates everything, which enables us to become the people that God has called us to be. And that is deeply joyful.
And this is a goal for all of us, whether in school or not.
So my hope is for this coming year to be a year of deepened understanding and joyful
learning – not just for kids in school but for all of us, that we may be on the path to Sophia, or wisdom, as a way to draw closer to God and to the image of God that lies in each of us.
On Wednesday morning I attended a rally organised by the mayor’s office. The rally was downtown at Pioneer Courthouse Square and I was there as a representative of the Interfaith Alliance on Poverty, an organisation to which Grace belongs. The purpose of the gathering was for folks from a whole variety of contexts (there were representatives in attendance from business groups, from other faith communities, from political and law-enforcement organisations, from unions) to together say that we condemn and we reject white supremacy and we condemn and reject the violence that it brings. As a group we declared that if folks are coming to Portland with the goal of nurturing violence and hate that they are not welcome here.
The folks coordinating the rally positioned me in the front row, just behind the dignitaries, somewhere to the audience’s right of the lectern; I wasn’t there to make a speech, just to look good, something at which I am excellent. And I was charged with the task of holding a giant letter “H,” part of a collection of giant letters that together spelled “Our city, our home.” (I was never a cheerleader, so finally getting to hold a giant letter, even if I had to wait ‘til middle age to do it, was kind of cool. Gimme and H!) Along with a lot of other folks, I stood there with my letter, looking out at a wall of cameras, at a whole bunch of reporters.
I don’t know how much the rally swayed the nouveau Nazis who want to come march in our streets. But I think that it was important for us as a community to say that white supremacy is not a part of who we want to be, not a part of who we are called to be.
The experience at the rally was mostly awesome. Except that, whoever designed the square, whoever designed what is sometimes called Portland’s living room, did not give a whole lot of thought to shade. And friends, I am not built for the heat. Even with a substantial hat on my head, even keeping myself well hydrated, standing still in the direct August sun was heavy going. And so about an hour into the rally and still only two-thirds of the way through the speeches, my knees just gave way. And me and my big “H” were suddenly half-kneeling, half-sitting on Pioneer Square’s brick floor.
Now, I am someone who not only really wants to be in control of myself but, more than that, I am someone who really wants to appear to be in control of myself. I did not care very much for adolescence, when my body frequently had its own ideas about how it was going to behave: without any permission from me, acne showed up on my face and my eyesight fell off of a cliff and I was listening to unbidden comments about how much my voice had changed. And to this day I don’t like it at all when the visible evidence of my control slips, when I am vulnerable. I want to be the one who gives help: I don’t want to be the one who needs it.
I totally understand what the writer David Dark means when he says that his sense of composure is almost sacred to him.
So, if I am going to be ill, or if I my knees are going to give way and I am going to fall, I’d really prefer to do so in the privacy of my own home.
But here’s the problem:
Standing in the front row of a press conference with several dozen cameras pointed your way is the possibly the least private place to do anything.
A lot of people noticed that I had fallen and came to help, to offer their kindness and their concern. The folks near me, several police officers and, fascinatingly, someone dressed like a national park ranger, like Smokie the Bear, all gathered around me, all of them sincerely, generously compassionate.
Other than sitting on the ground, I was actually doing okay: I didn’t hit my head, I wasn’t feeling dizzy. And I reckoned that the best plan was to sit there, to drink as much water as I could, and to trust that, in half an hour, my legs would be willing to hold me up again.
I told what felt like four dozen different people that this was my plan. And then my neighbour held up my “H” for me and I sat in its shade.
Today, in Paul’s letter to the Hebrews, we hear this protracted meditation on faith. Paul gives one example after another from scripture of what is possible when you have faith, of what people across history have done who have faith. Here are the folks who have endured much and have done much, who have walked through across the seabed and who have caused walls to come tumbling down and have seen resurrection.
And then Paul shares with us what, on some days, I think just might the most beautiful words in scripture:
We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.
Now if we want to, I guess we can read Paul’s words as those of a kind of First-Century motivational speaker: David defeated all those armies, so you can too; I am a rock star or an NBA player or a billionaire entrepreneur, so you can be one too. In this reading, Paul is sharing a quintessentially Western and quintessentially modern message: say your prayers, work hard, set goals, and you will be rich and famous. You will win. Never mind that being rich or famous are, by definition, something that only a tiny fraction of us can do.
But what if that isn’t what Paul means at all? What if, rather than being a celebration of individual achievement, of rugged self-reliance, Paul is offering a repudiation of that philosophy and a celebration of something way better? Why if Paul is saying that faith is what happens when we realise that we are not alone, that we never were, and that we were never meant to live life without anyone’s help. More than that – and this is hard for a lot of us – we are incapable of living life without anyone’s help.
There is this cloud of witnesses.
To paraphrase that 20th-Century Saint, Mr. Rogers: some of the people in the cloud are here; some are far away; some are even in heaven. So, some of the people in our cloud of witnesses have died, maybe years or decades or even centuries ago. And I believe, I trust that our relationship with them remains. But the cloud is not comprised only of those who have died, not just of the angels in heaven. It is comprised as well of everyone around us. Our friends right now, our family right now, our loved ones right now, our neighbours right now, the strangers who makes a cameo appearance in our lives right now.
They are the cloud of witnesses for us, the ones on whom we lean. And we get our turn to be the cloud of witnesses for them.
And it is a failure of holy gratitude – or maybe that it is not strong enough language – it is heresy or idolatry to look at the cloud and say: I have no need of you. This heresy damages us and damages those around us.
I read a fascinating article, maybe ten years ago, about the ethics of organ transplants. And it featured someone making the case for paying people to donate their organs. The reason that the person wanted to pay donors was not to make them more likely to part with a kidney. But rather it was, so that after transplant, the recipient wouldn’t owe the donor anything. I’m just not comfortable, the person said, owing another person that much.
As though any amount of money given to the person who gave you the internal organ that allowed your life to continue would make you even, any more than you could be even with your parents or the others who loved you into being. A gazillion dollars wouldn’t make you even.
My friend Brian said something a while back that I have thought often. Brian recounted how folks who were sceptical of church would sometimes say to him Religion is just a crutch.
To which Brian, marvellously, replied:
Yes, it’s a crutch.
And I need a crutch.
Acknowledging the cloud of witnesses, acknowledging our dependence upon them, means putting away the story that says, so long as our credit card goes through or our cheque clears, we don’t owe anyone anything. It means acknowledging our profound and utter dependence on one another and on God.
This is the spiritual gift of falling down in a public place, whether that fall be figurative – a diagnosis, a job loss, a grave disappointment, an enormous grief – or whether, as in my case, it be as literal as literal can get. In the fall the illusion of self-sufficiency is stripped away, the illusion that we were ever 100% in control, that we were ever 100% composed, the illusion that we could stand on our own two feet and owe nothing to no one. In the place of the illusion is the hard but also glorious and freeing and joyous truth that our falling was always inevitable but, when that fall comes, the cloud of witnesses will catch us.